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Veterans' issues include hepatitis C drug access investigation

Veterans' health problems are not limited to war-related injuries. Service personnel are also exposed to numerous diseases, such as hepatitis c, which afflicts the liver. The U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs cited studies that almost 4 million Americans suffer from this disease, but that veterans using VA hospitals have higher rates of this disease than the country's general population.

In fact, over 200,000 veterans were diagnosed with hepatitis C, or HCV. The chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs committee said that the drug used to cure this disease costs $40,000 per veteran, or $8 billion for all veterans who were diagnosed with HCV. However, the committee raised questions about development of the drug and whether veterans are reaping the rewards of its development that made this matter one of the controversial veterans' issues.

The committee held hearings on January 20 concerning the VA's Technology Transfer Program, which is responsible for research on veterans' health care. It specifically addressed allegations that a VA research employee profited from developing a drug to treat HCV while he was an agency employee and then left the VA and gained ownership of the drug. Research of the medication, sofobuvir, was financed by the VA. The drug is reportedly administered to cure 99 percent of HCV patients.

Reports indicate that this employee gained a $444 million personal profit from the $11 billion sale of the drug. He sold his company after the drug was invented. The employee was called before the hearing to testify. However, he filed for retirement the day after the hearing and did not appear before the committee.

The VA undersecretary for health testified that the agency has internal controls, but that a review was undertaken to determine whether VA policies and procedures were violated. He said that the agency will assert full ownership of the drug if there were any violations or incomplete disclosure. The Veterans' Administration makes a $1.8 billion research investment each year and had 304 inventions, 25 patents and 15 licensing agreements in 2014.

While the VA has to struggle with compliance with its policies and the availability of this HCV drug, veterans may also have to consider their legal rights to ensure that their right to long-term medical care and other benefits is secure.

Source: Kansas City InfoZine, "Hepatitis C curing drug inaccessible to veterans," By Tia Rinehart, Feb. 4, 2016

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